Leicestershire is situated in the heart of the English Midlands and is very rural, with many small villages set amidst farmland and small woods, especially in the Charnwood Forest area. Here, on the edge of the forest, is the sleepy village of Thringstone, home to a few hundred people and, on the edge of the village, the ruins of Grace Dieu priory, home to one mysterious individual.
Grace Dieu Priory is a nationally significant “Scheduled Ancient Monument” and a rare example of an Augustinian Nunnery, dating from the mid-thirteenth century. The ruins lie adjacent to an abandoned canal, limestone quarries, some 19th century landscaped parkland and an unused railway that crosses the stream next to the priory by means of a finely built viaduct. Grace Dieu is located in a large clearing on the bend of the A512 road that links the towns of Loughborough and Ashby-de-la-Zouch and the national ‘Sustrans’ cycle route runs past it.
Funding to conserve and make safe the remaining priory buildings has recently been obtained from the Heritage Lottery Fund, English Heritage, Landfill Tax Companies, the National Forest Company and other charitable trusts, local government and individual donations. Work has already started on surveying and recording the ruins and educational packs and a guidebook are being written. English Heritage believes that the pastoral setting is well suited for family recreation, picnics and educational purposes.
However, there is a slight problem. The problem is a she. She is the prioress of the abbey and is always dressed in her grey habit. And she is a ghost; a well-documented, frequently seen ghost that has been observed in various places around the site. Sometimes spotted in the priory grounds, the apparition has been seen standing by the stream looking across at the priory and has been sighted walking through the woods.
The local ghost preservation society has objected to English Heritage’s proposed plans for the priory, presumably because an influx of visitors would destroy the air of peace that has pervaded the area for centuries and that the well being of the ghost might be affected in some way. If they are also afraid that the prioress might be driven away, then a recent sighting will be quite worrying from the ghost society’s point of view!
Driving along the A512 one day, a local bus driver saw a passenger in the distance, waiting at the bus stop on the bend of the road by the priory. He slowed down, pulled over into the bus stop and opened the doors, expecting the person to get on board. No one did. He looked round to see where they had gone and saw nothing. Nobody was to be seen, neither by the road nor in the clearing in front of the priory. Whilst concentrating on pulling over safely to pick up his potential passenger, he had taken his eyes off the prioress and she had disappeared. Let’s hope at the last minute she decided to stay and observe the conservationists, as they restore her home to something approaching its former glory.